The Best Days of Your Cycle To...
What are the best days to quit smoking, start a diet, have great sex? Here's how to get your life in sync with your hormonal cycle—for optimal results.
Put Nature to Work
Our hormones wield a lot of power over us. They can make us calm and more confident or edgy and self-doubting, and that affects how we handle any situation—whether it’s being given a last-minute project or offered a second piece of cake. Because our hormones’ effects on us can be so confusing, we asked experts to demystify the fluctuations—and explain how to use hormonal shifts to advantage. Here’s how to live by your cycle.
Have a Mammogram
During this low-estrogen, low-progesterone phase, breast tissue tends to be less dense, so mammograms are more apt to spot small, hard-to-see tumors. But remember, “Getting screened within the recommended time intervals [yearly for women age 40 and older] is crucial to catching breast cancer in its early, most treatable stages,” says Dr. Robert Smith, director of cancer screening at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta.
From the first day of your period to mid-cycle, estrogen and progesterone levels are low, which means you tend to feel happy. It’s an ideal time to stop smoking because you won’t be hit with a double whammy of negative emotions. “Quitting during the first two weeks of your cycle may decrease withdrawal severity and increase your chances of stopping smoking for good,” says psychiatrist Dr. Kenneth A. Perkins.
Attack a Stressful Problem
When stress hormones and female sex hormones are low, you’re biologically programmed to perform well under pressure, according to Dr. Dmitry M. Davydov, a Moscow-based psychiatrist and physiologist who studied the interaction between sex hormones (which drive the menstrual cycle), stress hormones, and mood. At other times of the month, you may feel less motivated to take on a stressful situation.
Take a Risk
Always wanted to try bungee jumping or snowboarding but couldn’t get up the nerve? Now’s the time! Not only are you better equipped to deal with stress right now, you’re also more willing to do something daring, says Dr. Davydov. Since your levels of sex hormones are low, activities that boost stress hormones can help restore your overall hormonal balance. In fact, around this time of the month many women unconsciously seek out stimulating events to elevate their cortisol and epinephrine levels. Otherwise you may start to feel bored or depressed, says Dr. Davydov.
Start a Diet
You’ll find it easiest to resist high-fat, high-calorie comfort foods during this time. That’s because cravings for these treats, especially chocolate, tend to increase a few days before your period and linger a day or two after it starts, says Dr. Debra Zellner, professor of psychology at Montclair State University in New Jersey, who has studied the phenomenon. Although it may feel like the cravings are physiological, they’re purely emotional, says Dr. Zellner. “We tend to crave them because we need a treat when we don’t feel well.”
Go for a Dental Checkup
“The week following your period is the best time of the month to see the dentist,” says Susan Karabin, president-elect of the American Academy of Periodontology in Chicago. Estrogen/progesterone levels are low, and your dentist will get a more accurate assessment of your gum health. High levels of these hormones, which begin to rise around day 10, can cause gum inflammation, making it tough for your dentist to distinguish whether gum disease is the source of the inflammation.
Make a Baby
If you have a 28-day cycle, you’re most likely to ovulate around day 13 or 14, says Dr. Nancy Klein, a reproductive endocrinologist in Washington. If your cycle doesn’t average 28 days, your most fertile time is probably about two weeks plus three to four days before your next period. In any case, you should have sex every other day during your fertile window.
Ask for a Raise
In addition to hitting your sexual and fertile stride, days 10 to 13 are also the best times to ask for a raise or promotion. “The rise of progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, and other hormones in preparation for ovulation correlates with keener cognition abilities and verbal skills,” says Dr. Scott Haltzman, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. You’re hormonally charged to think on your feet and defend your position if your boss throws you a curve. “Your confidence level also tends to go up, and you’re the most clearheaded right now,” he adds.
Get a Pap Test
Peaks in the hormones estrogen and progesterone cause cervical mucus to be at its thinnest at this time, which can improve the clarity of a cell sample. (The Pap test examines cervical cells for abnormalities and/or changes, including potentially cancerous ones.) “But more important, this is when cervical cells are very mature and easier to read under a microscope,” says Dr. Diane Solomon, a cytopathologist at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.
Have Great Sex
“The day before you ovulate is when your libido is highest, orgasm is easier to achieve and is most intense. It’s a day you definitely don’t want to miss,” says Gabrielle Lichterman, author of 28 Days: What Your Cycle Reveals About Your Love Life, Moods, And Potential. This is also nature’s way of nudging you into bed, because that’s when you’re most fertile. If you don’t want to get pregnant, be extra vigilant about birth control and use a condom to protect yourself against sexually transmitted diseases.
Burn More Fat
As estrogen and progesterone levels rise in the luteal phase, the two weeks before you get your period, so does your body’s ability to metabolize fat. “You’ll burn more fat not only when you’re exercising but when you’re at rest as well,” says Dr. Leanne M. Redman, a researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. So don’t skip your workouts during this time; in fact, try to make them harder or longer to maximize your fat-burning potential.
Make a Major Decision
Progesterone and estrogen levels ebb in the latter part of your cycle, and you become less impulsive. Your intuition also becomes razor-sharp, so if you’ve been pondering a big life change, now is the time to trust your instincts. “Days 24 to 28 are when your decisions are more conscious and less driven by hormonal changes you may not be aware of,” says Dr. Haltzman. Use this time to finally decide whether to move, tweak your career track, or adopt that puppy in the window.
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